Biomes of Brazil - Resilience, Recovery and Diversity

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Geography - SoGE


This proposal spans the three largest biomes in Brazil, the Atlantic and Amazon Forests, and Cerrado savanna. Together these cover >85% of Brazil's territory and include many of the most diverse ecosystems on Earth, but all have seen large losses in extent. While the value of their vegetation is increasingly recognized it is unclear to what extent these systems can regenerate or resist the increasing environmental stressors associated with climate change, particularly heating & drying. The motivation of BIO-RED is to understand how these changes affect the ability of intact & regenerating ecosystems to deliver societal benefits. This requires addressing these key questions:
(i) How resilient are old-growth & regenerating ecosystems to the key stressors expected from future environmental changes?
(ii) Is the destruction a reversible process on time-scales relevant to human society? Thus, will vegetation recover to a similar state as the original and provide similar services?
(iii) Will the increasingly hot climate affect the recovery of forests and will modified forests be more vulnerable to future environmental change than intact forests?

Answering these questions is only possible with a sound understanding how these systems function and what their sensitivities are. To respond to this need, BIO-RED will apply a multi-scale approach to evaluate the relationships between functions, biodiversity, resilience and regeneration potential in Brazil's three largest biomes in the face of deforestation and climate change threats. Our objectives are to:
(i) Determine the biome-wide relationships between target ecosystem functions and biodiversity based on data from the RAINFOR and associated vegetation census networks;
(ii) Obtain a detailed mechanistic understanding of the link between biogeochemical cycling, plant nutrient use and species composition and diversity in primary and regenerating systems at the local scale in 3 study landscapes;
(iii) Examine tree species' ecophysiological sensitivities to key climate-linked stressors - drought, heat & fire - via real-time monitoring of vegetation functioning and comprehensive trait assessments;
(iv) Develop and apply a UAV ("drone")-based imaging spectroscopy platform to map canopy chemistry and functional diversity at tree, plot & landscape scales, and explore the relationships between ecosystem properties & functional diversity;
(v) Establish the extent to which biome transitions are already occurring, including forest invasion into cerrado, using both permanent plots and satellite-based monitoring.
(vi) Determine the ability of recovering ecosystems and ecosystem management to protect biodiversity & provide key ecosystem services in Brazilian biomes;

BIO-RED builds on existing observational networks all led by PIs of this proposal: RAINFOR, GEM, (>500 old-growth forest plots), ECOFOR & BIOTA, and others contributed by Brazilian project partners. Most activities will be focused on 3 focal-landscapes, in W Pará (Amazon forest), E Mato Grosso (cerrado), & E São Paulo (Atlantic forest), each with a complex mosaic of old-growth & regenerating systems that is already well sampled by our plot infrastructure and so ideal for intensive work to probe processes & to scale-up via hyperspectral imaging.

BIO-RED will improve understanding of the extent to which Brazilian forest & savanna are resisting climate extremes, the extent to which destruction is reversible, & the vulnerabilities of intact & modified vegetation to climate extremes. It will identify the factors that control resilience & recovery of biodiversity & provision of key ecosystem services to people. These will be used to inform ecosystem management & policy options such as REDD+, the Brazilian Forest Code, & Brazilian ecosystem recovery plans. We therefore expect to lay a stronger scientific basis for future regeneration & protection of these systems, and so to improve benefits for human society.

Planned Impact

Who will benefit from this research, and how will they benefit?

The national and regional governments of tropical nations within forest and savanna biomes will benefit from greater information relating to the resistance and resilience of these ecosystems to climate change, land-use change and other forms of disturbance. In addition, this information will help them to receive payments for ecosystem services, such as REDD+, opening up new income streams. PES schemes such as REDD+ are most likely to support rural people, who are often some of the poorest members of society in developing countries.

Brazilian federal research agencies such as INPE and EMBRAPA are responsible for monitoring changes in forest cover and ecosystem services. WP4 and WP5 will provide results relevant to the monitoring of Brazilian ecosystems.

The Brazilian federal government, including the ministry of the environment (MMA) and science and technology (MCT), will benefit from WP5, which will help guide appropriate restoration and conservation policies in Brazil, and will assist Brazil if the federal government decides to engage in REDD+.

Developed nations interested in climate change mitigation. Relevant EU counties such as Norway, Germany, the UK and France, whose national governments and other institutions have contributed $1,900M, $783M, $645M and $445M to REDD+ schemes in developing countries. BIO-RED will help these countries invest in lower-risk and cost-effective REDD+ projects that maximise biodiversity and livelihoods co-benefits.

Other key beneficiaries are
* International non-governmental organisations developing strategies to conserve and restore biodiversity, reduce climate change and aid sustainable development (e.g. World Wildlife Fund - WWF, The Nature Conservation - TNC, Conservation International - CI, International Union of Conservation of Nature - IUCN).

* The United Nations, most notably by producing outputs relevant for the Environment Programme (UNEP, and especially the World Conservation Monitoring Centre, WCMC), Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the Food and Agriculture Organization.

* The World Bank, via the Global Agricultural Research Partnership (CGIAR), which includes the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

* National NGOs in Brazil (e.g. IIS - International Institute for Sustainability in Rio de Janiero), and those that focus on conservation issues in individual biomes (e.g. SOS Mata Atlantica).

BIO-RED will help all these international and national governmental and non-governmental organisations to develop REDD+ projects that maximise carbon assimilation as well as biodiversity and livelihoods co-benefits. Improvements to monitoring will assist them in tracking changes in ecosystem health and extent. Information on species responses to extreme events, such as heat, drought and fire, will help them predict the future of tropical biomes under different scenarios of climate and land-use change. This in turn provides a powerful tool to exert pressure on governments to adapt and change their policies.

Finally, (1) several Brazilian students involved in BIO-RED will gain training from leading UK scientists, including many transferable skills relating to data management, data analysis and scientific writing, and (2) the Brazilian biome environmental science base will be further strengthened by the development of two new Young Investigators in country, each establishing their own new research team in leading research institutions and each working across the three largest Brazilian biomes.


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